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20 August 2014

Read Mel Booth’s report of Town’s first game at the new stadium

Town’s first game at the John Smith’s Stadium was 20 years ago today – and here’s the report from the 1-0 defeat to Wycombe Wanderers.


It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

Town were destined to carry off the spoils in triumphant fashion, thumping in goals and giving 13,000 fans an opening-day treat.

Unfortunately, Simon Garner hadn’t read the script and he scored the only goal as Wycombe gate-crashed the party and sneaked out with the points.

Town had their chances, make no mistake about it, but the weight of expectation eventually proved too much on what was a landmark occasion for the club and the town.

Neil Warnock’s side became over-anxious when it mattered most and finished the match with only 10 men after Pat Scully was sent off for a second tackle from behind.

No wonder everyone felt deflated at the end, apart from the 300 jubilant Wycombe supporters who erupted in delight when Garner smashed his unstoppable winner just four minutes before the break.

That was a critical blow, because Town had made all the early running and looked to have the dominant threat with the inventive forward play of Ronnie Jepson. 

Town were a man down at the time of the goal as Darren Bullock was having treatment on the Kilner Bank touchline, and the defence backed off a couple of crucial yards to allow Garner the space to angle his 20-yard drive.

Steve Francis didn’t have a chance as the ball clipped the inside of his right hand post on its way into the net – Garner striking the ball cleanly with a left foot which Scully later clipped to earn his red card. 

He was not the first and he certainly won’t be the last Town player to suffer under the new directives to referees, and Scully’s lonely trudge to the touchline summed up the team’s frustration. 

Town were fully committed to the cause, but they just didn’t hit it off. 

Too often, balls were pumped straight onto the heads of defenders Terry Evans and partner Glyn Creaser and when Town tried to play the ball wide they were too predictable by half. 

The ball didn’t run for them either, and even when the likes of Simon Baldry, Paul Reid and Tom Cowan got around the outside, service into the box was dreadful.

Jepson tried his best to drag Town into the mode which had destroyed Blackpool, his clever runs and touches inviting colleagues to attack, but the end product was nil as play broke down around the box.

Wycombe – well organised at the back and very smart in midfield – played the counter attack to perfection and could have gone ahead earlier had Garner not directed his side-foot effort a little too close to the ever-alert Francis. 

With the fans willing them on, Town’s best chances came midway through the second half, but goalkeeper Paul Hyde proved extremely brave and equally capable.

First, on 58 minutes, he blocked with his feet from Andrew Booth after Jepson and Bullock had combined nicely to slice open the back line. 

Then, 10 minutes later and with Town threating an equaliser, the goalkeeper did just enough to put Jepson off line as he aimed for the top corner with a clever curling shot.

Hyde’s best effort came fewer than 60 seconds later when Reid made a great run down the left and supplied a perfect cross for Booth, unmarked just 6 yards out.

You would have backed the young striker to score it 99 times out of 100, but Hyde stood his ground to block at point-blank range.

At that very instant, you sensed it just wasn’t going to be Town’s day.

There had been signs of that early on as Starbuck directed the first clean shot of the match narrowly wide after 6 minutes and Booth had a fantastic snap shot deflected over the bar.

Bullock also fired high despite two bites at the cherry from an indirect free-kick inside the box, awarded when Hyde handled a back pass and was booked for throwing the ball away.

Jepson’s party-piece free-kick, so deadly at Blackpool, this time rattled into the cricket sight screens behind the north goal as Wycombe rocked but didn’t crack, and the goalkeeper saved again to deny Baldry on the break. 

Town might, in fact, have conjured a fairy tale ending had they not been dealt such a damaging blow just before half time, but there always seemed to be a vital spark missing from their game.

Even the introduction of Iain Dunn, with his own distinctive brand of trickery, failed to produce the necessary urgency and the game petered out disappointingly despite the odd late skirmish in the box.

Town proved only the previous week that they are a lot better side than they showed on Saturday, and they will have to up the tempo tomorrow night if they want to get any joy out of Scunthorpe United. 

Town: Francis, Billy, Cowan, Starbuck, Scully, Mitchell, Baldry, (Dunn 62 mins), Bullock, Booth, Jepson, Reid.
Sub not used: Dyson. Gkp sub: Blackwell.

Wycombe: Hyde, Cousins, Brown, Creaser, Evans, Ryan, Carroll, Thompson, Regis, Garner (Hemmings 86 mins), Stapleton.
Sub not used: Turnbull. Gkp sub: Moussaddik.

Referee: Terry Lunt (Ashton-in-Makerfield) 

Cautions: Cowan, Scully (Town); Hyde, Garner, Carroll (Wycombe).

Sending-off: Scully (Town).

Half time – 0-1.

Scorer – Wycombe: Garner 41mins.

Attendance – 13,334

Town Man of the Match: Ronnie Jepson

Report and images courtesy of the Huddersfield Examiner

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